Chew On It
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By Andrew Kochirka staff blogger
Food has been an integral part of Andrew's life from a young age; from cooking with his mother and grandmother to creating recipes in his own kitchen. Now he scours the area's non-chain restaurant scene to find the best of the best of local food from chicken wings to French cuisine.   Read more about this blog.
 Phone: 814-878-2230


Places where the Beard ate Burgers
Posted: July 20th, 2010

I have a feeling that burgers are going to be a little more difficult than pizza or wings. My plan of action is going to have to be slightly different as well. Unlike pizza and wings, I am not going to be trying the same burger at every location. Instead, I am going to order either the house special or if that isn’t an option, the local favorite (both will probably be accompanied by french fries). I also am going to be evaluating the burgers on a few levels:

Drippage Factor – What comes out of a burger really is what gives it life. Typically, the better the burger, the more “stuff” comes out.

Herd Size - A lot of the time, burgers are a quarter of a pound. It is pretty standard. However, some locations take liberties with size and weight; whether a small cow was needed or an entire herd.

Handling – Burgers are created in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes one hand is all that is needed and others require the assistance of a friend.

Financing - This will answer the simple question: How much am I going to have to fork over for this delicious burger?

Yesterday was the first leg of my local burger tour. The Sidewalk Cafe is one of Erie’s most popular home-cooking spots. The restaurant at 26 North Park Row is really known for their amazing breakfasts. Because they are only open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., they serve breakfast and lunch all day. Their lunch includes some great sandwiches as well as what I came for, the burgers.

I met up with some friends at the cafe, and we grabbed an empty booth. My friends had arrived a little before me, so they had some time to look at what they wanted. After a few minutes of looking over the menu, I was ready to order. My decision was between two burgers; the black and bleu burger and the spinach and feta burger. Our server recommended the spinach and feta, and so that is what I ordered. I had my choice of sides, but I went with the french fries. They appeared to only have one server on, so it took a little bit of time, but it just added to the hunger.

The menu said it was a 1/3 lb handmade burger mixed with spinach & feta cheese on a kaiser roll, but when it came to the table, it wasn’t mixed at all. The burger patty was just topped with some chopped spinach and then a layer of feta. The meat itself could have used more seasoning, but the spinach and feta on top were pretty good. The kaiser roll was perfectly toasted and really made for a great bun. The large handful of french fries were fantastic as well. Perfectly cooked inside and out.

Drippage Factor – A steady stream of juices came out after the initial bite and pick up. Drippings from the burger with some moisture from the spinach added to it.

Herd Size – I thought it was pretty average for a burger. Not too thick, not too thin.

Handling – This burger was pretty easy to handle with one hand. I didn’t have to put it down if I wanted to take drink or eat a french fry.

Financing – Only costing $6.99, this meal was pretty affordable.

I really would have liked to get more of a home-cooked taste from this burger. Without the spinach and feta, it was a pretty plain patty. A thicker burger would have been a little more to my taste, and having the toppings throughout the burger, not just on top, would have been better as well. If their burgers aren’t your thing, be sure to go back and try their breakfasts. I recommend getting sweet potato and banana pancakes.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Sidewalk Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Posted: July 27th, 2010

Nelson’s is really establishing itself on State Street. Whether it be for live music, dinner, or just drinks with friends, Nelson’s is a good choice. Last night I was there for dinner. I have eaten there many times, but I have never ordered their burger. Yesterday was my chance. I made my way to 1033 State St. around 6 p.m. to eat before the SeaWolves Buck Night game. Business was rather slow, so we had our choice of tables. Our server was with us quickly, took our drink orders, and gave us some time with the menus. Though I knew what I was getting, I still like reading about all of their other food. I was half tempted to order their Reuben sandwich because it is incredibly good, but I stuck to my gun and ordered their Snake River Farms Kobe Burger. Also, you get a choice of side: French fries, homemade chips, or seasonal veggies. I went with fries.

The burger came out and looked awesome. The top bun was swirled with ketchup and mayonnaise while the burger sat on top of the lettuce, tomato, and onion on the bottom. The burger patty itself was topped with melted Fontina cheese.

If you aren’t familiar with the categories below, check out my first burger post.

Drippage Factor – Not much came out this burger. Don’t get me wrong, this burger was far from dry (though it was cooked pretty well-done and I ordered it medium-well). The flavors of the beef were cooking in perfectly. The juices just didn’t drip out.

Herd Size – It was a hefty half-pound burger crafted from 100% Snake River Farms American Style Kobe beef. I’m sure they go through a lot of cows there.

Handling – To hold, all you needed was one. To actually eat, you need two and a third to hold the napkin.

Financing – Due to where the beef comes from, this burger is a little pricey. At $10.95, this is not a burger you are going to go out and buy every night of the week.

From the patty to the cheese to the bun, this was a great burger all around. It really is one to come back for. Their hand-cut fries make are a perfect side as well. If burgers really aren’t your thing, make sure to go see what else they offer. Like I said, their Reubens are great, as are the seafood and many of their other sandwiches.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food
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Posted: August 3rd, 2010

It isn’t much of a competition when Uptown Brown’s is on the weekly poll. Their patrons came through again, and with 91 votes, they made it into my burger tour. I found my way to East 30th and German streets once more with high hopes for their burgers. My friend Brandon and I walked in, and as we looked for a table, we were greeted with open arms by the owner, Maryann Genis. We sat at a table in the back, and the cook, Elise “Cookie” Wurst, came out of the kitchen to give us some menus. With eight to ten burgers to choose from, we took our time to decide. We planned on getting two that we both wanted so that we could cut them in half and share. Cookie came back with our drinks and took our orders. Brandon went with the Spicy BBQ Burger, and I ordered the V.A.J.J. Buffalo Chicken Burger as well as a side of fries.

They just got their pool table re-felted, so we decided to shoot a game of pool while we waited. We watched some news and got to talk a little with Maryann as well as some of the other bartenders. Our burgers came out, and they looked awesome. Served on square, ciabatta-style rolls, these half-pound patties were huge. We cut the burgers in half, switched, and started eating. Both of us enjoy hot foods, so the Spicy BBQ Burger really hit the spot. This burger was topped with cheddar cheese, a layer of pickled jalapenos and tangy BBQ sauce. Simple, spicy, and delicious. The jalapenos added just the right amount of heat, but if you wanted more, I’m sure you could try and ask for fresh peppers.

The V.A.J.J. Buffalo Chicken Burger was a monster. Lettuce, tomato, onion, and Swiss topped a half-pound burger, which topped two buffalo chicken tenders. This really was a massive sandwich. The textures of the two meats together was great. The crunchiness of the veggies and the breaded chicken mixed with the tenderness of the burger was perfect. Both of us thought the same thing: more buffalo. Maybe toss the burger patty itself in the buffalo sauce as well to give it the needed kick.

Cookie then brought out another burger for us to try (and some of their new seasoned waffle fries). It was her signature “Cookie” burger. A handful of fresh bacon, mushrooms, Swiss and mayo on a half-pound burger. The burgers we ordered had a ton of extra stuff on them, so it was tough to get a REAL taste of the burger. The Cookie burger did not. The patty had its chance to shine here. The bacon really brought out the flavors in the beef. This one had the most drippings.

Both their traditional fries and waffle fries were good. Both had a crispy fried outer shell with a steamy inside. The seasoned waffle fries went great with the BBQ sauce from the burger.

If you aren’t familiar with the categories below, check out my first burger post.

Drippage Factor – These burgers all had some dripping. Whether it be toppings or juices from the beef, they all had their share.

Herd Size – The half-pound patties were quite large. With us eating three between the two of us, the herd might have taken a hit.

Handling – These needed two hands for sure, especially the Buffalo Chicken Burger. Cutting them in half to share helped.

Financing – The price is right for sure. The Cookie burger and the Spicy BBQ were both $5 or less, and the V.A.J.J. Buffalo Chicken Burger was $6.

Thank you once again to Maryann, Cookie, and everyone else at Uptown’s for the great hospitality. This is a fantastic corner bar that knows how to do it right. With fantastic foods at even better prices, this is a place that I recommend to everyone and I hope to visit more often.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Uptown Browns on Urbanspoon

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Posted: August 10th, 2010

Last night was my first time ever in Meadville, PA.  I have never had a real reason to visit, until now.  Julian’s Bar & Grill at 299 Chestnut St. is a small restaurant with a great feel.  Filled with musical instruments, posters, and tons of records, this place is great.  Greeted as we walked in, friends Amanda, Matt, Kerry and I were seated behind another party and our server, Justin, took our drink orders.

I tried my best not to look at the rest of the menu because I was only there for burgers.  On their current menu, they have ten or twelve different styles of burgers; however, in about a month they will be rolling out an updated menu with 25 burgers to choose from. We were lucky enough to be able to try one of the new burgers as well as a few from the current menu.  Our plan was to each order a burger, quarter them and share so we could all have a variety. The four we ordered were the Milano, the Mushroom Swiss, the Monster, and the new Cowboy burger.

Each burger came with a side of fries, so when they arrived at the table, we each kept a plate and divided the burgers among us.  The fries came with a side of ketchup as well as a side of their house special sauce.  I could figure out a few of the ingredients, but they wouldn’t actually give me the recipe.  All of the burgers were ½-pound patties served on toasted Kaiser rolls.  I started with the Mushroom Swiss burger.  Topped with fresh sliced mushroom and a thick slice of Swiss cheese, this burger was loaded with flavor.  This was the first place I have visited that used fresh and not canned mushrooms, and it truly made a world of difference.

I moved next to the Cowboy burger.  I know that some others have a cowboy burger, but Julian’s was a bit different. Horseradish sauce, BBQ sauce, fresh mushrooms, tobacco onions, and provolone cheese were piled high.  The textures in this burger were perfect.  The crunchiness of the onions, the meatiness of the mushrooms, the tanginess of the two sauces…this really was a complete burger.

The Milano burger was something I have never tried before. Fresh roasted red peppers were covered in a homemade pesto and a slice of provolone cheese.  The pesto was all that I could smell when the burgers came out, and the taste was even better.  This style was very imaginative and was delicious.

Finally was the Monster burger.  It was close to six inches high if not bigger and was held up on the plate by a large steak knife.  This burger had their tangy BBQ, lots of thick sliced bacon, and some fresh ham as well as lettuce, tomato and onions.  We felt like this burger was one that we needed to try together, so we all grabbed a quarter.  As we bit into this giant burger, “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne was blaring from the radio and it really…made the experience better.  An “epic” song for an epic burger.

If you aren’t familiar with the categories below, check out my first burger post.

Drippage Factor – These burgers all had some dripping. After the first two quarters, my hands had some good grease trails.  The more packed burgers dropped extra toppings as well.

Herd Size – Four half-pound patties were consumed not to mention the other bacon and ham.  I’m sure they put up a good fight, though.

Handling – The mushroom/Swiss was the only one that could be one-handed.  The Milano needed an extra hand for a napkin, while the other two needed three hands for the burger alone.

Financing – The burger prices were OK.  All came with fries and were between $7 and $9.

I would like to give a big thanks to Julian’s for the great food.  Thank you to our server, Justin, and the cook, DJ, for the great service and hospitality.  Yes, it is 40 minutes from Erie, but I cannot WAIT to get back down there.  I am excited to see what other burgers show up on the new menu.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Julian's Grill and Timeout Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Posted: August 17th, 2010

What could be better than beer, bacon, and BBQ?  I’ve wanted to get down to the Three B Saloon at the corner of 4th and Liberty since it first opened, and last night was the perfect opportunity.  Though I don’t drink, I do like bacon and BBQ, so this sounded like a great place.  I headed over there around 7 p.m.  It seemed to be a little slow inside, but it was still early.  We grabbed a seat, and our server, Merissa, brought us some menus and got our drinks.  I just ordered water, but Amanda ordered a beer, and with every beer comes a side of bacon, which is fantastic.  On the menu, they have a simple 1/3-pound burger that you can make however you want.  I ordered that, but I told the server to have the cook make it anyway he wanted.  Monday night, the house special is a two-for-one pulled-pork sandwich.  Amanda ordered that so we could try both the burger and the pork.

When our food finally arrived, we were hungry.  The sandwiches come out individually wrapped in butcher-type paper.  Not so environmentally friendly, but it makes clean-up and take-out simple.  If you order a hot side with your food, it comes out in a personal-sized cast-iron skillet.  I ordered the baked beans, and Amanda ordered the house special mac n’ cheese.  I was excited to unwrap my burger because I had no idea what to expect.  It turned out to be incredible.  A pressed 1/3-pound patty topped with a whole grilled portobello cap, mixed greens, fresh onion, three different cheeses all on Texas cut garlic toast.  The mushroom cap was almost as thick as the burger and loaded with flavor.  The cheese added under the mushroom instead of on top really let the taste come through. I added some of their house BBQ sauce to it, and it was delicious.

The pulled-pork was great as well.  It was also served on Texas toast and topped with a mound of broccoli slaw.  The slaw had a nice peppery kick to it and mixed well with the pork.  I also added more of the sauce to this, and it soaked into everything, toast and all.

If you aren’t familiar with the categories below, check out my first burger post.

Drippage Factor – The burger left my hands soaked.  Between juices from the burger, juices from the mushroom, grease from the cheese and BBQ sauce, it was messy.

Herd Size – The 1/3-pound patty was pressed thin, but 1/3 of a pound is still 1/3 of a pound.  Next time I will try to add another patty or two.  Sorry, Bessie.  

Handling – This was a pretty thick burger.  The Texas toast added height, but it also added stability.  One hand was just right.

Financing – The burger was reasonably priced at $7.50.  The price of the side depends on what you actually order.

My side of baked beans was awesome as well.  they are far from traditional, mixing bacon, kidney beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, corn and pineapple as well as other seasonings.  The pineapple added just a little bit of sweetness, which I thought would have ruined the beans for me but they were great.  The mac n’ cheese was out of this world.  Lots of cheese, very well seasoned, perfectly done pasta, everything good mac n’ cheese should be.

I would like to give a big thanks to the Three B Saloon for the great food.  I will be back for sure to get another burger and to try its BBQ.  Thank you to Merissa and the cook, Matt.  Your mystery burger was a true winner.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Three B Saloon on Urbanspoon

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Posted: August 25th, 2010

“Part of the fun is trying to find us!”

What a great AND true slogan that is. My GPS decided to cut out on me just as I was getting onto I-86. I knew the general area it was in, but really had no clue how to get there, so it was a fun journey to Findley Lake. We arrived at the Pine Junction Tavern around 6:30 pm on Monday and were greeted by a large snow dog statue at the front door. I knew right there that this was going to be good. Amanda and I grabbed a table and waited for my other co-workers to join us. Our server grabbed us some waters while we looked through the menu. One of the first things that caught my eye was the Reuben Balls. Seeing as how a Reuben is my favorite sandwich, balling it up and deep frying it sounds amazing. We put in an order of those and decided to wait for the rest of our party to order our food. The Reuben Balls were everything I could have asked for. The Swiss cheese was creamy, the sauerkraut was tart, and the corned beef was juicy. They came out piping hot with a side of Thousand Island dressing for dipping.

Shortly after we finished our appetizer, my co-workers Terry, Laurie, Laurel and her daughter, Beckett, joined us. They ordered some drinks, glanced at the menu, and then we all were ready to order. I ordered their Trail Burger, Amanda ordered the Bourbon Burger, Terry ordered the Angry Angus Burger, Laurie ordered some chicken wings, Laurel ordered a cheeseburger, and Beckett had the kids cheeseburger.

The food arrived, and there was a lot of it. The first thing we did was cut our burgers for sharing. I got a quarter of the Bourbon and the Angry Angus to go along with my Trail burger. All of them were fresh, 1/2-pound, hand-pressed patties and topped with all the fixings. I started with my own Trail burger. The beef was topped with a few slices of bacon, “specialty” BBQ sauce, and a slice of pepper-jack cheese. The sauce was a smoky BBQ mixed with some sort of Cajun spice. It had a lot of great flavor and went perfectly with the bacon and the beef. I was dipping my fries in the sauce that dripped off of it.

I moved on to the Bourbon burger. Covered in a bourbon sauce, bacon, and American cheese, this burger was awesome. The sauce had a good, sweet and tangy flavor to it.

Finally came the Angry Angus, and boy, was it angry. With a large handful of jalapenos (seeds and all), topped with Thousand Island dressing and provolone cheese, this was a big burger. Terry has had this burger before, and he even said that it was extra angry. The Thousand Island dressing helped cut some of the heat and really gave the burger a good flavor, but it was still quite hot.

With each burger, you get a choice of regular fries, sweet potato fries, or for $1 extra, seasoned curly fries. We got a mix of the regular and the sweet potato so we could try them both. Both were delicious; hand-cut, well fried and perfect. The sweet potato fries came with a cinnamon-brown sugar dipping sauce that was incredible. I was actually dipping my Bourbon burger into it, it was so good.

If you aren’t familiar with the categories below, check out my first burger post.

Drippage Factor – The burgers were all cooked to order, so the medium burgers were super juicy. Between the burger and the sauces, these burgers were made with napkins in mind.

Herd Size – The 1/2-pound patties were hefty. I was surprised that they didn’t have their own pasture so you could just pick out your cow.

Handling – Two hands for sure. And if you had a third, you needed it to eat some fries.

Financing – All of the burgers were $8.99 and came with fries. These were right down the middle of my prices so far.

Overall, I liked the burgers. The patty is what made them for me, though. Well seasoned, hand-pressed beef really makes the difference. Thank you to our server and to the owner, Shirlee. You took great care of us and made the whole trip worth it. I hope to see you again soon.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Pine Junction Tavern in the Pines on Urbanspoon

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Posted: September 7th, 2010

I headed down to Steel 12 Grub & Chug at 26 North Park Row for lunch today with some co-workers. It is a combination of Steel City Pizza & Sandwich Co. and Odis 12. Great pizza and subs from Steel City and amazing wings from Odis 12. This place is perfect for me. I have been to Steel 12 on a few occasions but never for a burger, so I was very excited heading in. When we arrived, it was a little crowded. We waited a minute for a table, sat down and started looking at the menu. Steel 12 has a very industrial look to it. Lots of stainless steel, black walls, and an open-construction ceiling. The seating area is in full view of the kitchen so people can watch their food being made. Our server, Emily, took our order and then got us some drinks. Maria decided to go with the Right Winger burger, Mariah went with the Strip burger, and I ordered the Double Teamer. All of the sandwiches come with fresh-cut fries, which I already know are awesome. We decided to split the burgers up so we could have a taste of all three.

Despite the restaurant being crowded, our burgers came out fast. When they arrived at our table, we cut them into a few pieces so we could share. I started with the Strip burger. It is a 1/3-pound burger topped with provolone cheese, fries, coleslaw, tomato and hot sauce. If you like a typical Pittsburgh-style sandwich, this burger really is for you. Their special house slaw really complements the burger with a nice crunch, and the fries added just the right amount of salt. I added a little ketchup and some more hot sauce, and it was perfect.

I then moved on to the Right Winger, a 1/3-pound burger topped with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and whatever wing sauce you want. Maria ordered it with Buffalo Ranch, and it was delicious. There were a lot of onions on this burger, but surprisingly, they were not overpowering. The tanginess of the sauce went well alongside the onion. We had to ask for an extra side of the Buffalo Ranch sauce to dip the fries in.

Finally came the Double Teamer, a fully loaded 1/3-pound burger (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard) NOT on a bun, but between two whole grilled cheese sandwiches. That’s right, two grilled cheese sandwiches. I was worried that it wouldn’t be enough food so I got bacon added to the grilled cheese like any rational person would do. I’m not sure that I could have finished this whole sandwich by myself, so I am glad I had two people to share it with. As large as it was, it was fantastic. The grilled cheese sandwiches held their own. The bacon and cheese stayed melty and added a lot of flavor to the already tasty loaded burger, and the toppings on the burger really complimented the grilled cheese.

If you aren’t familiar with the categories below, check out my first burger post.

Drippage Factor – The burgers were all stacked high, so between the burger, the toppings, and the sauces, these burgers required a few napkins and maybe a bib.

Herd Size – With each being a 1/3-pound patty, a good-sized cow had to have been used.

Handling – With everything that was piled on these burgers, two hands are highly recommended.

Financing – At $5.99 and $6.99, these burgers were worth every penny.

The burgers were really good, but for me, the Double Teamer stands alone. So much flavor, so much taste, so much burger. I normally go with the Pittsburgh-style steak and cheese, but now I have another menu item to order. Thank you to Emily and Mike for the hospitality and the fantastic food. I will surely be returning.

Next week is my final week of my burger tour, so start thinking about what my next food should be.  Steaks? Seafood? Reubens? Let me know what you think.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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